Sunday, January 13, 2008

Two voting blocs could prove crucial this election cycle in deciding both the nominees and eventual president: women and blacks. It is clear that both these groups are influential voices in the primary and caucus process; women helped propel Sen. Barack Obama to an Iowa victory with 35 percent of female voters in the caucuses supporting the junior senator from Illinois. His rival, Sen. Hillary Clinton, won 30 percent of the women’s vote in Iowa and former Sen. John Edwards 23 percent.

Among Republicans, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee’s win over rival former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney in Iowa was largely thanks to women, according to exit polls, which show that roughly 40 percent of female Republican caucus-goers voted for Mr. Huckabee and only 24 percent for Mr. Romney. Fifty-two percent of Mr. Huckabee’s Iowa votes were from women, which made him the only Republican candidate to get more than half his support from females.

In New Hampshire, Mrs. Clinton and Mr. Obama reversed rolls, with 45 percent of women voters in the Democratic primary choosing Mrs. Clinton, compared to just 36 percent for Mr. Obama. In all, an unprecedented 57 percent of the voters in the Democratic primary were women. Among Republicans in New Hampshire, Sen. John McCain had a clear edge among women over second-place finisher Mr. Romney, according to an exit poll by the Associated Press.

On Capitol Hill, it is former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani who has garnered the most endorsements —four of them — from female members of Congress. Mr. McCain and Mr. Romney garnered three endorsements each, according to a tally by The Hill newspaper. Former Sen. Fred Thompson has two female congressional endorsements, while Mr. Huckabee and Duncan Hunter don’t have any.

Among female Democratic lawmakers in Washington, Mrs. Clinton leads the way with 31 endorsements (including herself), while Mr. Obama only has five and Mr. Edwards has picked up two.

When House Education and Workforce Committee Chairman George Miller this week threw his support behind Mr. Obama, the national press corps speculated that this was a tacit endorsement from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, since Mr. Miller serves as a right-hand man for his fellow Californian. However, when contacted by The Washington Times, Mrs. Pelosi’ office reaffirmed the speaker’s decision to stay out of this fight, at least for now. “She doesn’t plan to endorse any of the candidates,” said Brendan Daly, a spokesman for Mrs. Pelosi.

The black vote is torn between Mr. Obama and Mrs. Clinton, according to polls in South Carolina, an early primary state where blacks make up half of the Democratic vote. A microcosm of this internal battle is found within the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC), where 13 members have endorsed both Mrs. Clinton and 13 Mr. Obama (including Mr. Obama himself). Interestingly, it seems the many of the older members of the CBC, contemporaries of civil-rights activist Martin Luther King, Jr., and stalwarts in the civil-rights movement, are supporting Mrs. Clinton, while the younger generation of black leaders are favoring Mr. Obama. This falls in line with the national debate over whether experience or change is the most important value voters should consider when selecting a candidate.

Mrs. Clinton has collected endorsements from two female governors, Delaware’s Ruth Ann Minner and Jennifer Granholm of Michigan. Mr. Obama has garnered the support of Arizona’s Janet Napolitano and an endorsement from Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick, the nation’s only black governor.

While many voters indicate their decision isn’t swayed much by endorsements, these pronouncements of support can provide insight into where the electorate may swing as the primaries continue to unfold. What is clear is that Republicans are far behind their Democratic counterparts who are seeking to court these two important voting blocs.

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